Uber

Uber and Its Enemies: Jim Epstein in The Daily Beast

How taxi cartels resort to desperate measures to kill innovation and save their crumbling industry.

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I have a piece up at The Daily Beast on how taxi cartels are attempting to use a tragic accident to undermine Uber and other ridesharing services. Here's an excerpt:

On the evening of December 31, 2013, Huan Kuang and her two young children were crossing the street in San Francisco's Tenderloin District when a Honda SUV made a careening right turn and ran

Uber App |||

them over in the intersection. Ms. Kuang suffered multiple injuries, including a skull fracture, and two and a half months later she still has trouble walking. The skin on one side of five-year-old Anthony Liu's face was scraped off, which will leave permanent scarring. Six-year-old Sofia Liu sustained severe trauma from the impact and died hours later in the hospital. Ms. Kuang and her husband, Ang Liu, are recent Chinese immigrants and unemployed restaurant workers with no means to pay their significant hospital bills.

Accidents of this sort are a terribly common occurrence. Cars kill on average 12 pedestrians every day in the U.S., and in 2013, Sofia Liu was one of 21 peoplefatally struck by vehicles in San Francisco. She was also the second person killed by a car in one of the city's crosswalks that very day.

The tragic death of Sofia Liu, and the maiming of her brother and mother, has drawn national media attention because at the time of the crash the driver of the vehicle, Syed Muzzafar, was working for Uber, a company that's made ordering a car service so convenient that it's upending the taxi business in cities around the world. On January 27, the Kuang-Liu family sued Uber in San Francisco Superior Court for damages related to the accident.

Read the whole thing.

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  1. Climbing on the dead bodies of children isn’t just for gun grabbers; now cronies and rent seekers can get in on it too! Dead children all around!

    1. Thank Zod, I was wondering if my sex drive was ever going to come back.

    2. “YOU get a bloody shirt, and YOU get a bloody shirt, EVERYBODY gets a bloody shirt!”

  2. The same logic as using an actor’s OD on heroin as proof that Colorado shouldn’t have legalized pot.

  3. Taxi drivers are the worst drivers on the planet. I got hit by a Yellow Cab while I was riding my bike last summer. On the sidewalk.

    1. Taxi drivers are the worst drivers on the planet.

      Evidently you’ve never spent time in eastern Europe.

      1. Or the Pacific Northwest. If you see Oregon plates, RUN.

        1. It won’t do you any good.

        2. If you can’t do something as simple as pump your own gas, how can you ever expect to drive well?

        3. I live in Portland and it just snowed. Hilarity ensued.

          1. It snowed in Seattle Saturday night and the snow stuck around for much of yesterday. It was nice. No road problems either. I was surprised.

        4. If you see Oregon plates, RUN.

          I heard they’re attracted to motion.

            1. And your period.

          1. But they only drive 30 mph, so they can’t catch you.

    2. Maybe if you were riding in the street like you’re supposed to, you wouldn’t have got hit.

  4. unemployed restaurant workers

    It seems when writing about Chinese people one must employ Chinese, because the phrase above isn’t English.

    1. I’m an unemployed sex astronaut.

      1. I must confess, that did make me laugh. A lot.

        1. I was going to say “unemployed best-selling author”, but I was worried that somebody would actually believe it.

          1. Thanks to ObamaCare, you can now live your dream of becoming an unemployed novelist.

    2. The could be doing restaurant-y things in their spare time, just to stay in practice.

      1. Or they were born into the restaurant-worker caste.

        1. It would be unclean to retrain them.

  5. I agree with the analysis. But I have a problem with the phraseology. Please stop using the word “accident” as it implies an inability to avoid the incident. In the most neutral form call it a “crash”. I don’t know a lot about the incident, but the author stated the driver was “careening” through a crosswalk. If so, the crash may be better described as being caused by a negligent or homicidal maniac. Whatever, it was avoidable and not an accident.

    1. Official vocab guidelines refer to it as a “collision”.

      1. In seafaring lawyerspeak, a moving vessel making unwanted contact with a stationary object is an “allision”.

  6. at the time of the crash the driver of the vehicle, Syed Muzzafar, was working for Uber

    This is not technically true.

    The driver was not carrying an Uber fare at the time of the crash.

    Between fares, you’re not an Uber driver. You’re just some asshole with a phone, just like any other asshole with a phone.

    1. From the Daily Beast article:

      The moment Mr. Muzzafar logged into the company’s system and made himself available for service, he was working for Uber regardless of whether he had successfully booked a passenger. Part of doing business as a cabbie is trolling the streets for fares. Uber should be held liable for his actions, just as any firm is responsible for what its employees do on the job. The CPUC needs to clarify its regulations, but this case in no way implies that ridesharing can’t function with clear parameters on liability.

      Does a cab driver whose cab is empty and who isn’t going to pick up someone count as being no longer in the company’s employ?

      1. No, because the cab is the company’s property.

        When you are not actively driving someone for Uber, you’re just a guy in his car.

        I could do an Uber fare this afternoon. One. Would that mean that for the rest of my life wherever I go I’m an Uber driver?

        Part of doing business as a cabbie is trolling the streets for fares.

        That’s not part of being an Uber driver. You have exactly jack and squat to do until someone orders your service using the app. Driving around accomplishes nothing for you. It’s not even remotely analogous.

        1. I am sure there are advantages to being in San Francisco ready to pick up rides instead of being at one’s house in the suburbs.

          The problem is that the driver’s individual insurance isn’t covering this, saying that he was working as a cabbie, so it’s not covered.

          But Uber’s insurance isn’t covering it, saying he wasn’t working as a cabbie, so it’s not covered.

          Ergo, there is a hole in the insurance coverage, and the dispute is over which insurance should pay. The driver’s individual policy, or Uber’s occasional commercial insurance that they sell to the drivers.

          IMO, it makes more sense for Uber’s policy to cover it.

          But that’s not the point of the article. The point of the article is that California commerial cabbies are lobbying to force all Uber drivers to carry FULL COMMERCIAL INSURANCE, as if they were full-time cab drivers.

          It is NOT that the insurance hole shouldn’t have to be filled by somebody.

    2. There’s missing context. Taxis drive aroound without a current fare because they are on the lookout for someone aving them down, or (more likely) because they are going back to a hotel or the airport to wait in a queue for a fare. What do Ubers do between fares? Was this guy actually going back to some place ti wait for a call? Was he running a personal errand and too lazy to log out and then back in a few minutes later?

      I’d say even if he was running a personal errand while waiting for a call, if he was too lazy to log out, Uber is still responsible.

      1. That’s absolutely ridiculous.

        If I am a self-employed painter, and I have my computer open to check my email to see if someone has emailed me to ask me to paint their house, am I engaged in house painting at that moment?

        Nope.

        Logging in to the system is participation in a communications system. I’m waiting for the possibility of piece work. While waiting for piece work, I’m just some schmo.

        It’s like saying that if people are driving back and forth in front of my house hoping I’ll call one of them to mow my lawn, I’m responsible if they hit someone. When you’re just waiting for me to call you, you’re just some asshole with a truck with lawnmowers in it. Our business relationship exists for the moment of the transaction, and that’s it. Even if I build an app to make it easier for me to text you when I want my lawn mowed, during time periods when I don’t want my lawn mowed you’re just some asshole.

        1. What if the Uber has dropped off a ride and is on his way back home to wait for the next call? He presumably wants to log those miles as part of his expenses, which means he stays logged in.

          But if he stops on the way back to pick up groceries, he should log out.

          That’s what I mean by context. We don’t know where he came from or where he was going, only that he was not on the way to pick up a fare.

  7. On the evening of December 31, 2013, Huan Kuang and her two young children were crossing the street in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District when a Honda SUV made a careening right turn and ran them over in the intersection. Ms. Kuang suffered multiple injuries, including a skull fracture, and two and a half months later she still has trouble walking.

    Did the accident knock her into the future? It hasn’t been two and a half months since 12/31/13.

  8. so if the driver worked for a govt-sanctioned taxi company, there would be no lawsuit? Come on.

    1. There would be no lawsuit because there would be no ambiguity about the insurance. Right now, Uber and the driver’s insurance are both denying responsibility because the driver was between fares.

  9. This NEVER would have happened if Syed Muzzafar had been driving a car painted yellow. Right?

  10. The driver ought to have liability insurance, which should cover the damages.
    If not, it may be fair to sue Uber for failing verify drivers have liability insurance, if he was, in fact on a Ubar fare.

  11. The rest of the article is worth reading:

    Individual policies don’t cover commercial activities like operating a cab, so if a ridesharing driver gets into an accident while on duty, the insurance company has grounds to deny the claim. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which regulates ride sharing services in the Golden State, came up with a simple solution to this problem: It requires ridesharing platforms to provide their drivers with occasional commercial insurance that has liability coverage of at least $1 million. When ridesharing drivers turn their personal vehicles into taxis, their individual policies are placed on hold and their commercial policies kick in.

    The Kuang-Liu lawsuit partially hinges on when the insurance switch takes place, and the CPUC’s regulations are regrettably vague on this point. Mr. Liu and Ms. Kuang maintain that Mr. Muzzafar was working for Uber at the time of the accident because he was logged into the company’s system and he had driven into San Francisco that evening specifically to pick up fares. Uber claims that because Mr. Muzzafar didn’t have a passenger in his car and wasn’t on route to pick up a fare, he wasn’t working for the firm at the moment of the crash. So the company and its insurance policy bear no liability for what happened.

  12. And:

    Uber’s position is untenable. The moment Mr. Muzzafar logged into the company’s system and made himself available for service, he was working for Uber regardless of whether he had successfully booked a passenger. Part of doing business as a cabbie is trolling the streets for fares. Uber should be held liable for his actions, just as any firm is responsible for what its employees do on the job. The CPUC needs to clarify its regulations, but this case in no way implies that ridesharing can’t function with clear parameters on liability.

    And that’s exactly what Uber’s opponents are claiming. “[We] would like to express our deep condolences to the Liu family,” wrote the San Francisco Cab Drivers Association (SFCDA) on its website. “We sincerely regret that it takes a tragic accident such as this to demonstrate the shortcomings of the recent decision by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) allowing an unlimited number of insufficiently insured vehicles to provide unlicensed taxi service.” Representatives from the SFCDA recently traveled to Sacramento in an effort to convince California lawmakers that drivers like Mr. Muzzafar should be required to maintain commercial policies around the clock, which would cost in the neighborhood of $8,000, according to a report in the Chronicle. This would ruin the ridesharing business model for many drivers to the benefit of the traditional taxi industry.

  13. So the argument the article is trying to make is that YES, Uber SHOULD be liable for the accident, but that no, individual ride-sharing drivers shouldn’t be required to have commercial cabbie insurance.

    The original post does a poor job making this clear.

    1. I find it hard to believe a driver couldn’t find a policy below $8K… or have those rates been inflated and artificialized by the various interests. Perhaps an innovative insurance company or three would start to offer policies specific to the ride-sharing industry

      1. They already have. That’s the point. Uber sells occasional commercial insurance to drivers.

        Problem is that the insurance companies (the individual insurer and Uber’s commercial insurance), are in a dispute over WHICH insurance should cover the damages, and the regulations are unclear about who is legally liable.

        Is the guy working for Uber when he’s trolling looking for rides, or is he just a private driver at that point?

        1. I guess that was my point, surprised there isn’t a 3rd option, or alternative to Uber’s offering that a driver could go with as a gap filler so they wouldn’t be left out in the cold like this guy.

          1. Well, really all we need is a ruling as to who owns the liability. Uber’s insurance, the driver’s individual insurance, or the driver himself.

            I would expect that, if the ruling said that Uber insurance didn’t cover it, Uber would quickly be forced to extend coverage to drivers once they are logged into the system anyway, because otherwise drivers owuld drop out of the system.
            They are paying for Uber’s insurance coverage, after all, so there is already a commercial relationship there.

            Frankly, I think it is rather cheap of Uber to stick drivers who are “on duty” with the risks they run when on their way to pick up fare, or waiting in town for someone to call for a ride.

            Uber should cover this. it’s crazy for them not to, and it’s opening an avenue for commercial cabbies to basically force all their drivers out of the market. Their survival depends upon it.

  14. This is just an run-of-the-mill insurance dispute and has nothing to do with the viability of ridesharing vs. cabs. Duh.

    1. Yes, but the medallion taxis are trying to use it as an excuse for Big Brother to stop the competition.

    2. has nothing to do with the viability of ridesharing vs. cabs

      Sure it does – if the insurance problem mentioned in the article isn’t solved, ridesharing won’t be viable.

      1. Exactly.

  15. If only we had single-payer auto insurance…

    1. STOP GIVING THEM IDEAS!

  16. Is it clear that Uber should pay? I had assumed that the drivers were independent contractors, in business for themselves. In which case the burden would fall on their insurance. It complicates the matter that Uber apparently packages in their commercial insurance, but it’s not dispositive. If they aren’t employees and have no authority to bind the company Uber, then it’s not clear why Uber should be held to have committed the tort. The contractor committed the tort while waiting for fares from Uber, which in some sense is no different than if the cabbie received the fares by radio, SMS, or email.

    What if a cabbie were logged into multiple cabbie-app services at once, and had a practice of taking the first available fare? It’s unrealistic to say that cabbie is under the control and authority, and is an agent on behalf of, all those companies at once. Which is why the contractor distinction still exists.

  17. Just free yourself from all the legal questions and get a car hire in Sofia Airport.
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